Over the past year and a half, readers have been scouring dusty used book stores for a copy of an almost-forgotten piece of science fiction: Frank Herbert’s Dune. In anticipation of the Fall 2021 movie, readers are eager to prepare themselves by digging into the 800-page masterpiece. I stand guilty of such an undertaking myself – I am currently on page 535. In an effort to keep from spoiling the book (or the movie, whichever you see first), I write this in the midst of experiencing an unexpectedly emotional novel. 

Whether you like science fiction or not (I do not, usually), Dune has a way of translating the complexity of a different universe, different thought patterns, different struggles and motivations, and pulling the reader into the thoughts of the characters. While the book is filled with sand worms, spaceships, body shields, and awesome weapons that only the dedicated can pronounce, what Dune has taught me most thus far is the internal battle that rages inside of each character. Herbert employs a writing style that bounces back and forth between the internal thoughts and cares of characters within their personal conversations. This matters, because the reader of Dune witnesses the reactionary thoughts of each character to the words of those around them. We know when they are confused, despairing, hating, and most importantly when they are attempting to numb their fear. Dune is filled with fear. On a planet covered in sand with very little water available to its inhabitants, the reader gets a window into the internal ‘survival of the fittest’ thoughts rampant in every chapter. What I’ve noticed most though – and the impetus of this article – is that very often a phrase is repeated in order to numb, suppress, and overcome fear. Characters cite their scriptures: 

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

After reminding themselves of this axiom, they move forward with the will to face their situation. What bothers me as I read this science-fiction with Christian eyes is that God has given us emotions not to be suppressed, but to be used and redeemed for his glory. Of course, this is not to nitpick the brilliance of the novel or the purpose for Herbert inserting it into the narrative, but how hopeful I get when I turn away from reading and remember that God is ok with me experiencing fear and does not command me to get myself under control. Actually, God commands me to fear Him and out of that emotional reality, obey him. Does God delight in us being crippled by fear? Absolutely not! God is not a God of anxiety and is deeply saddened by his children who are overcome by fear. He hears our concerns and speaks into them (Ps. 94:19). He calms our fear out of care for us (1 Peter 5:6-7). And what’s more, He has given us the emotion of fear to protect us from danger, identify what we value when it is threatened, and to humble us. When we fear, we see our neediness. When we fear, we sense something is wrong around or inside of us. When we fear, we turn to something or someone for help. It’s actually a huge grace for God to allow his children to experience fear – otherwise we might be overwhelmingly passionless, stupidly courageous, proud, and arrogant. 

So one way of dealing with this in a scary world covered in sand with very little water is to never address or acknowledge the emotional reaction to your circumstances (several times the main character Paul curses himself for reacting with emotion). What this effectively does (and you see this play out in the book) is makes the individual the Savior. It also makes self-preservation the goal. Re-read the quote: “…Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration…Only I will remain.” There is some truth to the fact that anxiety weighs a heart down (Prov. 12:25), but this is the wrong motivation to put away fear. Jesus never tells his disciples (and us) to not fear so that we can survive. He never gives fear the credit or power to be able to obliterate us. Instead, God looks at fear for what it is: an emotion given to us for a purpose. Then, he teaches us how to handle it, direct it, respond to it, and live despite it. He calls us to cast not only our fears on him, but all of our cares. Every care we have he asks to take off of our shoulders and carry for us, to help us face. Jesus is perfect in his love for us. What does this mean? It means that he deals perfectly with our overwhelming fear, anxiety, and distress because he loves us (1 John 4:18). Far too often, we do not clue him in to what is overwhelming us. Too often, we act like the characters in this book who slap themselves for being afraid. And still, we neglect our fear-calming Savior who died to release us from our fears.

If you are overwhelmed by dread, fear, anxiety, tension, or nerves, and find that you are responding to these emotions like the characters I’ve mentioned in Dune, you will be for yourself a poor Savior. But Jesus has grace for you, and desires that you are not the only one remaining when fear leaves you. He wants to be standing next to you, protecting you, and telling you truths about who you are to Him and how he has done a perfect work to give you redemption and victory over fear.